Actor Hugh Grant’s claim against the publisher of The Sun over alleged unlawful information gathering will go ahead to a trial.
Grant, 62, is bringing legal action alleging he was targeted by journalists and private investigators against News Group Newspapers (NGN) in relation to The Sun only, having previously settled a claim with the publisher in 2012 relating to the News Of The World.
NGN, which denies any unlawful activity took place at The Sun, brought a bid to have both Grant’s claim and a similar claim by the Duke of Sussex thrown out at a hearing in London last month, arguing that both men had left it too late to file their claims.
But, in a ruling on Friday, Mr Justice Fancourt concluded Grant’s claim could proceed to trial, except for any allegations relating to phone hacking.
The judge found that Grant could have brought a claim for phone hacking sooner, as he had knowledge of it, but that his other allegations will have to be tried.
He said: “It was only on seeing invoices disclosed in NGN’s generic disclosure in 2021 that Mr Grant believed that private investigators (PIs) had been instructed by The Sun to target him in various ways, particularly in 2011.
“Although Mr Grant was aware prior to March 2016 of general allegations about use of PIs to obtain information, there is in my judgment a realistic chance that Mr Grant may establish at trial that, although he was aware of general allegations and was suspicious, he could not reasonably have believed with sufficient confidence that he may have been targeted by PIs instructed by The Sun in some of the relevant ways.
“Sufficient knowledge or belief that NGN’s denials of phone-hacking were false does not necessarily mean that Mr Grant believed at that time that NGN had used different methods of UIG targeted at him. That issue will have to be tried.”
A ruling on whether Prince Harry’s claim can go ahead will be published later in the year, following a July hearing on whether his case can be amended to include his allegations there was a “secret agreement” between the Royal Family and senior executives working for NGN proprietor Rupert Murdoch.
Grant, who attended court for some of last month’s hearing, alleges among other things that he was targeted using “burglaries to order”.
In a witness statement, the Love Actually star said: “My claim concerns unlawful acts committed by The Sun, including burglaries to order, the breaking and entering of private property in order to obtain private information through bugging, landline tapping, phone hacking, and the use of private investigators to do all these and other illegal things against me.”
He referred in the statement to evidence he gave to the Leveson Inquiry into press standards and ethics in 2011, in which he spoke about a break-in at his London flat, where the front door was forced off its hinges and a story appeared shortly afterwards in The Sun that “detailed the interior”.
He said: “I had no evidence that this burglary was carried out or commissioned on the instruction of the press, let alone The Sun”.
The actor added that he had been told by a private investigator in early 2022, which prompted him to launch his claim.
In his statement, the actor says he brought his recent claim after being passed information which “showed, for the first time, evidence that The Sun had targeted unlawful activity at me and my associates directly”.
He said the information included private investigator invoices and payments, and that they included the period during which the Leveson Inquiry into press standards and ethics was taking place.
NGN has previously settled a number of claims since the phone-hacking scandal broke in relation to The News Of The World, which closed in 2011, but has consistently denied that any unlawful information gathering took place at The Sun.
A spokesperson for NGN said: “News Group Newspapers [NGN] is pleased that, following our application, the High Court has ruled that Mr Grant is statute barred from bringing a phone hacking claim against The Sun.
“The remainder of his claim, which has been brought following a statement made by Mr Gavin Burrows in 2021, has been allowed to proceed to trial.
“NGN strongly denies the various historical allegations of unlawful information gathering contained in what remains of Mr Grant’s claim.”